Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Snowy Winter

Yes, the snow is deep outside right now and as I write this more of it is coming down. I have to say that I cannnot remember a winter in recent memory when we accumulated as much snow as we have this year and January isn't even finished yet. The snow bank at the end of my driveway is seven feet tall. I know because I am throwing shovelfuls of snow over it two or three times a day lately. The snow is so deep in our yard we had the snowshoes on just to walk around the house!!!

Lianna on snowshoes in our yard in Bowmanville

Every season brings treats to us in Ontario and winter birds are one of the things we look forward to. Siskins, redpolls, crossbills and grosbeaks are a few of the visitors that we don't see except in the dead of winter when they will come south and visit feeders. From the tundra we get Rough Legged Hawks in varying numbers most winters and every few years we will get irruptions of owls. A couple of years ago Great Gray Owls were turning up over much of southern Ontario. Cranberry Marsh in Whitby had some and a few kilometers east in Ajax there were as many as six. Usually this kind of influx is the result of food shortages in the normal wintering grounds of the owls. That was the case with the Great Grays 2 years ago.

This year the owl that is everywhere is the Snowy Owl. Reports of Snowy owls on the Niagara frontier, Burlington bay, the Leslie street spit in Toronto and Holland Marsh to name a few have been common. Farther afield there has been a Snowy owl seen in Tenessee, the first in 22 years. These owls are rare south of Ohio but his year there have been reports in Kansas as well as Missouri. One also showed up in Virginia.

Most influxes of snowies are the result of population crashes of Lemmings, the owls main food source. Lemmings tend to have cyclical populations. Apparently this influx is not due to a crash, but the opposite. This summer the lemming population was very high and as a result the number of snowy owls successfully fledged was very high. Because Snowy owls have their own hunting territories, the large numbers have resulted in an influx into southern Ontario this winter. So if you would like to see one where do you go? Probably the best spot to see Snowy Owls this winter (or most winters) is Amherst island. Amherst island is in Lake Ontario just south of Millhaven, which is about 20 miles west of Kingston. You need to catch a ferry over to the island, so check the schedule. Also there are no gas stations on the island. Driving the roads and keeping your eyes open should get you a few sightings. The counts have varied from 5 to 15 owls seen this winter.
Another good spot is the area around the Holland marsh, where 4 were seen yesterday with a fifth known to be in the area.

You might get lucky and see one closer to home. There was one in the GM plant grounds in Oshawa earlier this winter. My mother in law spotted one between her home in Newtonville and Port Hope, along Highway 2, just after Christmas. So as you are out and about this winter, keep your eyes peeled for these majestic visitors from the arctic tundra.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Nonquon River

Ok, so the snow is ten feet deep outside and the canoe is hanging from the rafters in the garage. However if you are anything like myself, you are always planning the next paddle. So in keeping with the Port Perry theme, today I am going to talk about the Nonquon River. The Nonquon is a small river that begins just northwest of Port Perry and flows north through the villageof Seagrave eventually ending in the northwest corner of Lake Scugog. It is a gentle paddle at any time, no rapids or high water. You might have to pull your canoe over or around a beaver dam or two but that is it. No five hundred yard portages. No speedboats. It really is an ideal little stream for you to take your kids for a paddle on. The best part is that for most of the trip there is no sign of civilization. Lots of birds to be seen. Great Blue Herons and Kingfishers will fly up as you paddle along. The banks of the stream have lots of wildflowers to look at. Turtles will be up on sunny days. The best part is that it is only an hour or so from downtown Toronto. I have relatives in Seagrave and remember visiting my cousin Parrish Fisher as a kid and paddling the Nonquon forty years ago. It hasn't changed much since then. You still have the chance to see wildlife such as deer, mink, or beaver and flowers like Cardinal Lobelia grow on the banks. In the last few years I have paddled it with my daughters, and son and enjoyed it just as much. It is a great spot to introduce the kids to the canoe
You can put in for your paddle in the town of Seagrave, where there is a boat ramp just east of the Simcoe Street bridge on the north side of the river. Paddle west to go upstream and you can go for a few hours. East and you will reach Lake Scugog in a couple of hundred yards.
The other reason to talk about the Nonquon is to let you know (well in advance) about the 41st annual Canoe the Nonquon. This event is the longest running canoe race in Ontario and is open for all skill levels. You have the option of just the river portion(18 km) or the river and lake(26 km) finishing in Port Perry. The event is a fundraiser for the Scugog Shores museum. This year it is being held Saturday June 6th. I plan to enter in the father/son category with my four year old and do the river portion. See you there!!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Kilimanjaro: Arrival in Tanzania

Ray, Diane and I arrived in Tanzania via Amsterdam. We flew direct to Kilimanjaro airport which is near the city of Arushu. It was dark when we got off the plane, so we really couldn’t see a lot but the warmth and the smells told us that we were on the equator. Customs and immigration was the usual except there was only the one planeload to deal with. The whole airport was about the size of a small public school. We got our bag and went out to find our driver holding up a sign with our names. His name was Alex. We piled our gear into a large Toyota land cruiser and set off for the Springlands Hotel in Moshi. It was pitch black out so we really saw very little of the countryside on our hour drive to the Hotel. At the hotel we checked in and went to our rooms. It definitely wasn’t the Hilton, but not bad for a third world hotel.

The next morning we got up and went down to breakfast. The gardens in the hotel made it plain we were on the equator.
The first birds we saw were Pied Crows and Red Headed Weavers. We were definitely not in Kansas anymore!
Just about at that time one of us looked up and realized that what we were thinking was clouds wasn’t. Looming way up in the sky was our mountain. It was massive!!! We debated who’s silly idea this whole thing was, while we took in the shear magnitude of the task ahead. The fact that we still had a safari ahead of us before climbing the mountain allowed us to eat our breakfast. The food was an odd mix of eggs, European sausages, fruit and African style cereals and toast. It isn’t on your Gourmets list of places to go but we weren’t going to starve either. After breakfast we piled our stuff into the Land cruiser and set off for a couple of nights on Safari. I won’t go into that on this post other than to say if you ever have the chance to do a safari in Africa, do it!! You won’t be disappointed.
A couple of days later we returned to the Springland to prepare for our climb. That evening we met our guides who spelled out exactly what we should take and gave us our weight limits. They have a scale in the courtyard and your bag doesn't leave the hotel until it meets the limit!
They gave us the evening to pack and repack our bags. All evening small groups were carrying their bags to the scales, and then tossing a couple of pairs of underwear and/or bags of candy bars, whatever to make the weight. Eventually we were all satisfied that they would let us and our bags board the van for the drive to the mountain. We retired to the bar for a well deserved Kilimanjaro beer. It would be a while til the next one!!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Winter Wonderland!

Since my last post started telling you about Kilimanjaro, I was reminiscing about some of my training for the climb. As I described in the Kili post I did a lot of spinning for training. However I also did a fair amount of hiking. Most of us will admit to hiking more in the better weather. In fact we all tend to hibernate in front of the TV or, like myself the computer, when the snow starts falling. However lets talk about getting out and about in this snowy winter wonderland. One of the areas that I did some training in prior to Kili was the Durham forest/Glen Major/Walkers woods complex.This area, just south of Uxbridge is less than an hour drive from Toronto. This area is forested, hilly and full of well marked trails. Between the three areas they comprise about 2000 hectares (who knows what the heck a Hectare is?) of wooded area for self propelled recreation. They are well used at certain times of the year, especially for mountain biking. However the shear size of the complex makes it easy to spend hours without seeing anyone other than your own group. On one sunny, cold winter day just prior to leaving for Kilimanjaro, Ray and I spent three hours hiking the hills of Glen Major. We saw some snowshoe tracks throughout the area. This would be a great day trip for all you Toronto snowshoe afficianados. Bring a map and compass and or a GPS because it is a large area and you might feel a hundred miles from the nearest civilization even though you aren't. There are a network of X country ski trails as well. This winters heavy snow fall would make this a good choice for a day outing for anyone looking at nordic skiing. The trails aren't groomed like a commercial ski area but they are free. The last time I went the conservation authorities had not put up any parking fees, but even if they did you would be looking at a couple of dollars for a carload of skiers/snowshoers/hikers. In fact the only people that we saw that day were three X country skiers, well into the interior of the woods. It was really cold that day and we were using the hike to prepare us for the colds at the 20,000 feet. It didn't!! Our beards were covered with ice as you can see in the photos. The remarkable thing about the three skiers that we did meet out on this frigid day was that they were all well into their seventies. They were enjoying themselves! Those people are my heroes! I hope to be as active and unafraid to do things like this when I am their age.

Ray and Myself enjoying the cold!

Other hiking opportunities abound in the winter in southern Ontario. Other training hikes were along the Bruce Trail. If you don't know it it runs from Queenston Heights on the Niagara River to Tobermory at the tip of the Bruce peninsula. It follows the Niagara escarpment and is maintained by volunteers from the Bruce Trail Conservancy. Guide books and maps are available from them by going to their website. The trail originated as a brainchild of Ray Lowes, a metallurgist from Dofasco in Hamilton. His idea became a project for Canada's centennial in 1967 and I remember as a child helping to build sections of the trail in Niagara, and the construction of the cairn marking the southern terminus, at Queenston Heights. In the winter the trail is less crowded and best of all there are no bugs.

Hiking on the Bruce Trail near Grimsby, ON.

You don't have to go that far for a winter hike. Almost all of us have somewhere 'nearby and natural' (to steal someones saying) that we can go for an hour or mores hike. I live in Bowmanville and five minutes from my house is Stephen's Gulch Conservation Area. Last week I was out for a litle cross country ski. I have hiked in the winter and summer and mountain biked as well. I will probably take a quick snowshoe there in the next few days as the snow is
deep right now. The point is that there are endless possibilities for winter recreation. Just get out there and enjoy it!!! We are Canadians after all.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Kilimanjaro: Part 1

Ok "so we're not in southern Ontario anymore, Toto"!! Hey, I did warn you!

In February of 2007, two friends, Ray and Diane, and myself, set out to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. We all have some experience in backpacking and hiking but we are not mountain climbers in any sense of the word. This was the highest I have ever hiked by about 12,000 feet.
I have been a naturalist all of my life and have traveled extensively throughout America and the rest of the world, usually focused on the natural world that is around me.
When I set out to climb Kilimanjaro I attempted to do some research beforehand. I found that although 30,000 people attempt to climb Kili each year there is not a lot of commonly available literature out there to help. Indeed some that I ordered through the internet never arrived, being on back order or out of print. Try finding a trekkers map of Kili and it is out of stock or out of print! I never did get one. A book on the flora of Kili? There is supposedly one for sale but I haven’t found it. The only book that I actually received through ordering on the web was Hemingway's THE SNOWS OF KILIMANJARO which doesn't really qualify as a "how to guide". The web is slightly better, although wading through the myriad of commercial sites attempting to get you to book your climb with them confuses the issue for someone who has already booked, and is looking for hard facts on the equipment you will need, the natural history, or the conditioning required.
This post is an attempt to add to the info that is available to you without any commercial interest.


If you are thinking of climbing Kilimanjaro you will need some equipment. If you read the travel guidebooks you will see that apparently you can rent everything you need in Tanzania. Perhaps you can but my climb was pretty much a once in a lifetime experience and I did not want a few hundred dollars worth of equipment to prevent me from success or enjoyment.
If you are going with a group, your travel agent will make recommendations about equipment and there are a multitude of books and websites that can help you. Just about any large outdoor equipment store will be very happy to help you out with their recommendations. If you can talk to someone who has done the trip so much the better.
I have done the trip so here are a few recommendations of mine.


Don’t skimp on boots and don’t leave it to the last minute. Get a good pair of multi-day hiking boots. You won’t really be carrying a full load as you will have porters, but much of the trail is fairly rugged so the heavier boot is welcome. As well, on the final night of climbing you will be cold. Take that as a given. Again the heavier boot will provide more warmth. I have two suggestions.

Buy them early. In fact if you don’t have a good pair now and are contemplating Kili, start looking. The last thing you want to do is break in a new pair of boots while climbing the mountain. You might make it to the top OK but the trip down will be a different story. The hike down is going to be a struggle regardless and if your heels are blistered it will be hell. Buy them as early as you can and start wearing them. You will be in them for eight or ten hours a day at minimum and on summit day for about eighteen hours. I would recommend building up to wearing them for eight hours a day in normal daily activities and then start hiking in them. If at all possible hike in a hilly area. Going up and down is where your boots and feet will feel it. When they are comfortable you will know it.

Make sure they fit correctly in the store. Before you start trying boots on look at the ones in the store and decide which models you are interested in. Then start trying them on. Don’t settle for the best fit in the store. Find the right fit if it means visiting a dozen stores and trying on a hundred pairs. Everyone’s feet are different so the right boot for one may not be the right boot for you. Boots can not be sloppy on your feet but you will want room for warm hiking socks. Try the boots on with the socks you will wear on the mountain. If the fit doesn’t feel perfect in the store it probably isn’t the right boot. The new boots will be stiff but they should feel good on your feet. Experience helps here, so if you have someone you trust who will help, by all means take them along on the shopping expedition. Most avid hikers are more than willing to spend a few hours in the local outdoors stores.


Hiking poles are something relatively new. I had never used them. They were recommended to me and so I tried them. I can pass on that recommendation! I am glad I had them and wouldn’t do a long hike again without them. I’m not sure I would do a short hike without them either. They give you added stability on tricky terrain and allow your arms to take some of the work off you legs. I bought the collapsible ones and considering you will probably be flying to Africa they are the wisest choice.

Sleeping Bag

Depending on the route you take you will really only experience one cold night sleeping. I bought a mummy bag rated for minus 12 degrees C and was quite comfortable. I don’t think I would want much less of a bag but neither would I want a heavier bag. There were quite a few people on the mountain with lighter sleeping bags but many of them complained of cold nights. If you are cold you aren’t getting a good sleep and it affects your days as well.


Only three things to say:

Gore-Tex (or some other waterproof breathable).

Seriously check with your local outdoors store!


Chemical hand warmers- I have seen photos of people at the summit in T-shirts. That wasn’t on our trip. On the hike up to Gilman’s point in the dark it was cold. No let me rephrase that. It was COLD!!!!!!!. After about four hours my hands were seriously complaining. Luckily a family member in Canada had given me as a gift some chemical hand warmers. They saved the day and I don’t think I would have enjoyed the rest of the climb without them. For a few dollars and a few grams of weight they are worth it whether you use them or not.

YakTrax- when we got to the crater rim the trail to the summit was narrow and very icy. Apparently I wasn’t the first to think of climbing Kilimanjaro. The trail was slippery and in some places the drop to one side or other would have been serious, or at least the stop at the bottom would have hurt. In Canada and probably anywhere there is “winter” they sell something called YakTrax which are a rubber mesh with steel grippy things that slip over your shoes or boots and provide traction on icy surfaces. While very cautiously picking my way along the trail to the summit and back I wished I had a set of them. Again, cheap, light and would be worth looking into. Mountain Equipment Co-op sells them.

Lithium batteries- if you are taking a camera (and let’s face it who isn’t?), ordinary AA batteries don’t last long in freezing temps. Lithium works. Before setting out on the summit climb change your cameras batteries to lithium and your headlamps batteries as well. They will last you till you get off the mountain even at 20 below.

Speaking of which, you will want a headlamp. The new lights are bright, lightweight and you will wonder how you ever did any camping without them. We used them every evening walking about the huts. Remember you are on the equator so it is pitch black by 6 pm. We also used them on the actual summit climb. Just about any outdoor store or the MEC has them

Fitness for Kilimanjaro

Before I start please do not take me as an expert. Do your own research. The group you are travelling with will likely make recommendations and or have a trainer lined up. There are numerous websites out there about climbing Kili and many of them discuss training in depth

When I climbed Kilimanjaro I was a few months shy of fifty years old. I have always kept active, but I am not a real fitness fanatic. Mostly, I like to be outside, whether on my bike or hiking. Regardless, when I committed to Kilimanjaro I obviously wanted to bring my fitness level up as high as I could. I did a variety of activities including hiking in hilly areas for a few hours at a time two or three days a week. I climbed in February so our later hikes were in the dead of the Canadian winter which helped acclimatize to the cold on the last days climb. It was still mind numbingly cold during the climb to Gilman’s Point but I am glad for those training hikes in the cold. I also went to the gym and did a variety of exercises to build up strength. However I think that the one thing that I did that helped me the most was spinning. For the last three months I joined a 50 minute Spinning class three times a week. If you are not a cyclist then I would recommend working your way into spinning slowly and as soon as you can after committing to climb Kilimanjaro. I climbed with two others, close in age and fairly active people. Both of them concentrated on stepping machines and both ran into difficulty the last night. I had no problems with breathing or fitness. I don’t guarantee that that was the reason for the difference but I feel my spinning classes gave me an excellent cardio workout. One trainer I knew who has climbed Kili recommended doing spinning classes with a paper dust mask on to simulate the struggle breathing that we would experience. I didn’t go so far but I never had breathing problems either.

Altitude Sickness

I really don’t believe you have to be an Olympic athlete to climb Kili. Anyone who is in good shape, and has some hiking experience should be able to make it. However everyone has a different reaction to altitude so fitness is only part of the equation. I experienced no symptoms of Altitude Sickness on this climb. If I was to do it again I might. I am not a Doctor. I recommend that before going you talk to your doctor about Altitude Sickness and about possible preventative measures. You can be the fittest person on the mountain and be turned back by Altitude Sickness. Having said that, being in good shape will make the climb more enjoyable. There will be some links to sites on altitude sickness later.

Outdoor Skating Marathon

One of the upcoming events in Ontario is the sixth International Big Rideau Lake Speed Skating Marathon Saturday January 31, 2009. I first heard of this event a couple of years ago on the CBC and it intrigued me. Basically the town of Portland, ON, which is north of Kingston takes a Zamboni out on the lake and creates a one kilometre oval skating rink. Then they host this marathon. From what I have been able to figure out anyone can enter. There are different distances, 5K, 10K etc. and you don't need speedskates. I don't imagine you will win without them but none of us are out to win everything we try either. Participation is the key. Check out their website: Portland Outdoors
Anyways the gist of this particular post is to let you know about this great event and to give kudos to the town of Portland. I think it is a great way to put your town on the map, to get us out of winter hibernation and to show the rest of the country that winter isn't just for watching TV.

Now, the second part of this post is a suggestion to Port Perry, ON. One of the reasons Portland isn't overun with people for the marathon is that it is at least a three hour drive from Toronto.Even at that 3000 people attended last year. In my opinion if the same sort of thing was done in Port Perry, an hour drive from Toronto, they would fill the town. Not only would they come to skate or watch but they would eat in the restaurants, shop on Queen St. and look around the town. In short they would probably spend a bunch of money, and maybe more important come back again and spend a bunch of money again. I love the town of Port Perry, I have relatives in Seagrave and have visited Port Perry since I was 2 or 3. So what would it take. Well Lake Scugog is right in front of you. You have all kinds of ice fishing going on out there, with people driving skidoos, trucks, etc on the ice. So you take a truck, tractor, whatever, with a blade on it and scrape your kilometre long track, just out front of Palmer Park. Then you borrow the Zamboni from the arena and surface the track so that it is nice and smooth. Then you publicize that you have this giant outdour skating facility available for use by the public and you sit back and watch the cars roll into town. If you are the mayor of Port Perry, I am available for consulting! Seriously though I think it is a great idea. Just have some one from the parks department checking the ice thickness, and the rink could bring people to Port Perry all winter. I know this winter would have been a good one. Then you run a couple of citizen style races of different lengths and you put the town on the skating map!
I am just down the road from Port Perry so I am suggesting this on Lake Scugog but any town with safe ice could do the same and bring in some tourists and get us Canadians outside in the winter.

The Outdoor Dad


Hello and welcome to my blog. My name is Jim and I live in Bowmanville, a small Ontario town about an hour east of Toronto. I have three daughters in University and two sons at home with me and my wife. One is three and a half and one is seven weeks old this Friday. I love the outdoors and my blog is going to be outdoor related. It will mostly be related to Southern Ontario but not restricted to it. Some of it will be family activities, some you might have to leave the little ones at home! What do I like? I am into canoeing, kayaking, birding, mountain biking, road biking, cross country skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, camping, trail running, and running just to name a few. I have cycled across Canada, climbed Kilimanjaro and hiked the crest of the Smoky Mountains.

Needless to say I love the outdoors and this blog will tell you some of my adventures, let you know about whats coming up in the way of outdoor activities in southern Ontario and just to talk about some outdoor related item. Just to begin with my next post will be about Kilimanjaro, a trip I did about two years ago and have been wanting to put on the web ever since but never got around to. I am also going to write about marathon skating and Lake Scugog in the near future as well as looking at the nearby and natural areas and activities available to us here in southern Ontario. Enjoy